In 1969, my wife and I visited her cousin, Rudolf, in Germany, warmly welcomed, overfed, driven around to see the sights, watched German TV in the evenings. Rudolf’s wife, Lydia, twin daughters, her younger brother, Gerhart, and a grandchild completed the household.
Near the end of World War 2, Rudolf, fifteen, had been drafted into the Wermacht, sent to the Italian front, captured and put into a POW camp near Foggia, Italy, where I was stationed. I’d visited that camp for an article in the Foggia Occupator, where Rudolf had been one of 15,000 prisoners. Now an engineer, he’d built his house by hand, drove a Fiat, and ate Italian sausage. I asked about his work as an engineer. He showed me pictures of a factory, a floor with machines, a furnace room, a furnace, a temperature gauge inside, and pointed to the gauge. “That is my work,” he said.
Driving around we came to a block of houses. “Guest workers from Turkey,” he said, and dismissed them, “They are not Germans.” In the U.S. there were lunch-counter sit-ins and Vietnam war protests. He said that in Germany protestors would be arrested.
“You can’t arrest everybody,” I said.
He smiled and his eyes twinkled. “Oh yes we can! We don’t want your problems.”
Gerhart, 20, later explained that Rudolf was “an old-fashioned German.” A university student, Gerhart took us to a jazz concert. I asked what he was studying.“Political science.”
“And when you graduate?”
“I don’t know. Germany has no jobs for political scientists.”
“Why are you studying it?”
“To understand why the generation of our fathers became mass murderers.” That stopped me cold.
“There’s a theory,” he continued. “Compartmentalization of society. Everybody is given some little thing to do. Germans are obedient, hard-working, and don’t ask questions, but all the little things together become a terrible thing.”
A German friend once said, “By murdering Jews, we inherited Jewish guilt.” Germany has outlawed the Nazi Party and all expressions of it. They have memorialized the Jews, Gypsies, anti-nazis, and others that their fathers murdered.
But an American recently in Germany said young people are sick of hearing about the Holocaust and the sins of their fathers. Nor does Japan confront its militaristic past, China, its slain millions, Americans, those they murdered while stealing a continent. We glory in rapidly evolving technology and imagine ourselves to be enlightened. But will future generations look back with sadness and write their history books classifying the days of their forefathers as a Second Dark Age?